Step Back from the Shade: 5 ways to build inclusion with a chip on your shoulder



Periodically, I can be a shady ass bitch.


We all have our moments. Pre-COVID, my friends and I would get together with several bottles of wine and a few charcuterie boards and “shoot the shade.” We would gossip, talk about the things that would bother us, annoying people, and laugh and (sometimes) cry. It was almost like therapy for me, except the more wine you’d drink, the more honest you would get. Once it was over, it was business as usual.


For a long time, I would hold grudges with people over the smallest things. When my second nephew was born, I loaned my brother $10 to get gas in his car. Key word: loan. My nephew is 11 now. I still haven’t been paid the $10 back.


Andy, if you’re reading this, gimme my money!


You don’t have to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race to have heard the expression ‘throwing shade’, or in its singular form ‘shade.’


Shade is defined as a subtle expression of contempt for or disgust with someone. Shade is mostly verbal but it can be written. Urban Dictionary defines ‘Shade’ in numerous ways, some of which are not fit for print. One constant is ‘acting in a casual or disrespectful manner toward someone.’


I do believe it is important to highlight where 'shade' originated from, as it did not begin with RuPaul's Drag Race. Shade was prominently coined in the 1991 film Paris is Burning. The film profiled the vibrant ballroom culture living within New York City, following African American and Hispanic gay men, drag queens and transgender women as they compete in fierce and fun competitions involving fashion runways and vogue dance battles. Through series of candid interviews with significant ballroom icons, Paris is Burning centered on issues such as class, racism, and gender identity, within a community who felt largely shunned from mainstream society and culture.


In explaining the concept of 'shade', one of the film's stars, Dorian Corey, states: "I dont have to tell you you're ugly...I don't have to tell you because you know you're ugly. That's shade."


In a review of the cultural impact of the film, Daily Dot writer Mary Emily O’Hara called out : “If you’ve ever used words like ‘fierce’ or ‘shady’ or commented ‘yassss queen’ or ‘work’ on a cute Instagram pic, you’ve been speaking the language of the ball scene – likely, without ever realizing where it came from.”


Back to my gripes...Is it shady or just plain petty? How healthy is this?


After you throw the shade, did things change? No. You showcased your frustration, and it went back into hibernation. It is still present. We can all do better.


How does this apply to building a culture of inclusion?


A key piece of building inclusion is creating an environment where you’re open to people’s similarities, differences, and experiences. Another essential element is being present to see the real person. As humans, we tend to isolate ourselves from other people based on past experiences. Furthermore, we tend to brush them off based off our own experiences, and dislikes.


Inclusion is belonging. Can you truly belong if you have a chip on your shoulder? Can you truly create belonging when you’re throwing shade every five seconds?


To truly create a culture of inclusion, you need to stop with the shade and let it go. But how can you do that?


In my experience, I have found it therapeutic to practice five ways of letting go of the chip on your shoulder to foster a culture of belonging.


Let it out

I know what you’re thinking, isn’t this the whole point of throwing shade in the first place? Well, kind of. Expressing the issue is one thing. Expressing the issue with the intent to hurt the other person(s) involved is another. Share the issue with others without bringing in unnecessary feelings about the person. Focus on the issue at hand. If you even want to go further, reach out to the other person, and express your grievance and aim to make peace. Talk through it but also be present and hear the other side. If you can’t stomach talking to the other person, write it out in a journal. As you express your feelings, give some thought to the role you played in creating the situation. While you shouldn’t blame or punish yourself, it is important to take responsibility for your own contributions so you can learn to not hold onto hard feelings and fully let it go.


Nobody is perfect

We must learn the power of grace and that no human is flawless. We all have baggage. There are things about all of us that make us flawed. If we expect grace with our flaws, we need to provide the same dignity to others. People have the innate ability to become better. We must recognize the power of the human spirit to grow and evolve and by doing so, they become a better version of themselves and able to own up and learn from past mistakes and experiences.


Focus on the present

When you still have a chip on your shoulder, centering your attention on the present can be easier said than done. One way that I have found balance and focus on the present is through mindfulness meditation. It allows me to subconsciously focus on the good while reflecting on the negative experiences of the past. What this does is train my brain to exist more in the present than in the past or the future. This especially helps if you are always on the go or always busy. It reduces the time you must even think about the past. Another way that helps in focusing on the present is to develop a mantra or affirmation that can work as a cue when the need to throw shade can come up. My personal mantra that applies to past experiences is “I don’t drive that car anymore.” Saying these words anchor myself to the present and the negative subsides.


Be mindful of Intruding Thoughts

Lingering over the past can become a bad habit, and all habits take time to break. This means that there will be time where the need to throw shade and the thoughts of the past will ebb and flow. You’ll need a strategy for dealing with these reminders in a healthy way. One of the best ways you can remind yourself about your current focus is to center your attention on something positive within your life right now. It could take the form of affirmations or there might be something you have that invokes a positive association with it.


Forgive (others and yourself)

Forgiveness is an essential part of moving forwards. First, forgiveness needs to be extended to the person or people who you feel wronged you by accepting rationale and reflecting on some of the reasons why they may have behaved in the manner they did. You may never need to let the people back into your life but continuing to feel hate in your heart and throw shade toward them is toxic. By forgiving those who may have wronged you, you also learn trust in others in the future. Another piece of this is forgiving yourself for your role in the issue.


While throwing shade can be fun and create a temporary euphoria, you’re missing the point. It’s temporary. You can’t create inclusion when you are holding grudges. It is not about suppressing your distain, its about releasing it in a healthy way so you can create belonging in an open and supportive environment.


Practicing these five items can get you on a path of getting away from the shade and getting closer to inclusion.


In closing and in all seriousness though, Andy, I do want my $10 back.





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